God Bless America
Written and Directed By: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray and Tara Lynn Barr
Director of Photography: Bradley Stonesifer, Editors: David Hopper and Jason Stewart, Production Designer: Natalie Sanfilippo, Original Music: Matt Kollar
The success of Bobcat Goldthwait has rested on one essential fixture in his comedy: as much as you might find him offensive and vile, he is a “truth teller,” as the kids like to say. His comedy and his films might be over-the-top fantasies that ignore real world consequences, but they are fantasies that we are all supposed to hold deep within our repressed hearts. Consider that during the first five minutes of God Bless America, his latest and most direct polemic rant against American culture, the protagonist has a dream where he murders a loud, constantly crying, and ugly baby. Goldthwait assumes that all of us secretly want to murder that baby as well, along with many other dumb, awful Americans that populate our culture.
Goldthwait has some truth in God Bless America, but it’s been diluted and packaged in such an odd package that never seems to congeal. There’s promise to his work, the same way Shakes the Clown begins as a seriously dark look into comedy and alcoholism, but he gives up on making a bolder statement for making an easy and not particularly clever one. Add to that the violent fantasies God Bless America indulges, and Goldthwait’s nihilism isn’t just lacking in profundity, it’s making those he holds upright seem just as misguided.
Which is part of the point, I guess. The film follows Joel Murray as Frank, a hapless guy who has reached the end of his rope. He’s fired from his job, his daughter can’t stand him, and he is constantly barraged by the trash that is American culture (Goldthwait’s best statement is by not over-exaggerating the parodies of shows like The Real Housewives and American Idol—he presents them as they are, which makes them all the more disturbing). He puts a gun to his mouth, ready to end it all, when he decides that it would instead be better to kill a teenager that screamed at her parents for not getting her an Escalade for her 16th birthday.
Along with some coddling by young, violent-crazy teenager Roxy (Tara Lynn Barr) ready to destroy everything in her path, Frank begins a path across America, murdering the worst of the worst: Republican talk show hosts, people who double-park without a care, extremist protesters at funerals, and people who talk at movies. These are people that deserve to die, explains Frank (as a voice piece for Goldthwait, which is a lot of the movie).
Occasionally, God Bless America seems to question the actions of its heroes (Roxy wants to murder those who want to high-five, as well as Diablo Cody for making Juno), but the problem less with questioning the intention is that Goldthwait never grounds this in a compelling narrative. The film is more indebted to the road comedy than Bonnie and Clyde, but neither Frank nor Roxy feel like fully functioned as much as functional for these moments of violent extravaganza. Goldthwait’s point is that if the sane do-gooders of the world treated the insane as they treat each other, then we’d have a blood bath on our hands. It’s an interesting question, but because Goldthwait is less interested in exploring this question (Taxi Driver did it 40 years ago anyways) than just exploring his own dark fun because he can. I just wish I didn’t have to go with him.